A decade of fantastical watchmaking later, MB&F’s Maximilian Büsser reflects on his road to rekindling our child-like curiosity with his avant-garde Horological Machines and Legacy Machines.
Some watch journalists have met Büsser so many times that they (including Luxuo’s Associate Publisher) just call him Max. Now this isn’t because Max is everyone’s best friend. In fact it is about sincerity. Max is nothing if not sincere, even when making a sales pitch. He can have very specific objectives and hew extremely closely to a carefully crafted script but he doesn’t spin the sorts of marketing tales that we typically expect from the more charismatic of watchmaking folks.
In this interview with the man who puts the MB in MB&F, originally published in Men’s Folio Singapore, we discover the truth of that statement.
Is your motivation still the same as 10 years ago?
It’s different. When I created MB&F, there was a lot of rage and anger. It was a rebellion against the industry – “How can they do such boring stuff all the time? I want to create something incredible!” Now, it’s not that at all. Now, it’s a creative adventure, which is all pleasure. Don’t get me wrong; we’ve had a lot of tough moments over the last 10 years, we’ve stumbled many times. But what’s important is we’ve always gotten back up on our feet, and each time we did, we were stronger. There’s virtually no more anger 10 years after, so it’s good.
According to Max, the HM6 (above) is the craziest watch MB&F have ever created
You said that you’ve achieved the size you wanted for MB&F, what then is next for the brand?
That’s funny because most people ask, “If you’re not growing, what’s going to happen?” Well, this year we’re doing 17 launches, 19 the next, but we’re not growing! We’re just being more creative, reinvesting every cent of what we make into creating, being smarter and getting out of our comfort zones. The goal is to create, not money or growth, and that’s rare. I’ve become addicted to creating. Production, sales, that’s all just ‘necessary evil’ to me; creating is the cool stuff. But I must admit this change in my life. From a 100 per cent creator, I’m now a creator at MB&F and a curator with my M.A.D. Galleries, and both give me equal pleasure.
How do you keep the creative streak going?
It’s an addiction. I’ve discovered over the last 10 years that this is my story I’m writing. I’m not doing this for the shareholders or the business, I’m doing it for myself. And on top of that, I’ve done a ton of other things I never expected to. If you had told me back then that I would one day create a round watch, I would have said, “Never! The rage!” Now I’ve created a music box, a clock, and an art gallery. So you evolve, and maybe some day, I don’t want to create anymore, but I doubt it. That’s not the way I function.
MB&F stands for Max Büsser & Friends. Did you ever take a step back to wonder why these “Friends” were willing to embark on this journey with you?
The initial Friends who joined me didn’t do so because I made them believe it was going to be a great journey. I didn’t promise them anything. They joined me because we already had a lot of pleasure and fun working together at Harry Winston. More importantly, they knew I was extremely trustworthy. When I say something, I’d do it. So they went into it with minimal risks. What we bring to the “Friends” is we take them out of their routine, because they’re all working in an industry where brands are doing more or less the same things and products look more or less the same. It’s funny because initially I had to jumpstart them, push them out of their comfort zones. Now, four or five years later, the same people are coming to me looking for the next project. So I brought to them a pleasure in working that they perhaps did not have with mainstream brands.
Melchior (above) is one of MB&F’s 10th anniversary pieces
What gave you the idea for three-dimensional timekeeping?
I don’t know actually! It was something I wanted to explore. I have to give credit to Felix Baumgartner of Urwerk, who blew me away with the UR-103. That sort of opened the door for me and made me realise that I adored what he’d done, and that I’d love to do something similar. So I owe Felix a lot.
Do you see your Horological Machines as inhabiting the realm of horology or art?
It’s really a cross-junction of both. The art aspect lies in the fact that it’s a selfish, creative process. It’s about expressing what I want to express, there is absolutely zero commercial considerations involved. The watchmaking comes when we deconstruct traditional watchmaking and reconstruct it into a piece of mechanical art. So for me, watchmaking is the canvas and the brush. I can’t sing, paint or make a sculpture, but give me the chance to rework a watch movement into something crazy, and it comes naturally. I don’t know why I can do that – it’s a gift.
Which of the Horological Machines is most representative of MB&F?
I’m a pretty bipolar individual, so I have to say there are two. Clearly, in the iconic sense of what has ‘ruffled’ the industry, the HM6 Space Pirate is the craziest piece of watchmaking we’ve done to date. At the same time, we are the creators of legacies, and the very first LM1 (Legacy Machine) is going to be an iconic piece going forward. I think it’s proof that you can be creative in the space of a very classic timepiece.
The LM Perpetual is the latest time sculpture from MB&F, its first perpetual calendar
Would it be fair to say that one of the strengths of your timepieces is the storytelling?
I’m not a movement creator or a designer, so I get upset when we win design prizes – except for the Red Dot Award, that was pretty cool. But because we create concepts, you’re right to say there’s a story. I have a little issue with the word “storytelling”, because for me, that’s having a boring product and spinning an angle to try to make it interesting. We have great products with real stories, and we spend our time telling those stories – the product is the story.
And a lot of them are influenced by science fiction.
People think I’m a sci-fi geek when I’m not at all. They’re inspired by my childhood. My defence mechanism for being an only child who’s always lonely was to have an incredible imaginary life, and that’s being Captain Kirk or Han Solo defeating the Death Star. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to see the next Star Wars, that’s not who I am! When you’re a kid, everything is rich and vivid, and since my creativity is also my psychotherapy, I basically delved into that part of my life to revisit what made me happy then.
“A creative adult is a child who survived” – how did you preserve your inner child?
A hundred per cent of all children are creative: They sing, they dance, they draw. Then, 90 per cent of them become boring, uncreative adults. What happened? What caused this mass massacre of creativity? Children are creative because they’re not afraid of being wrong, and that gives them the freedom to create. But then, parents tell their kids they have to be the best if they want to be happy. Professors, of course, only accept the right answers, and bosses fire you if you’re wrong – the whole of society conspires to scare the living death out of you! So you lose your creativity. I was a creative child who became a boring young adult, but luckily for me, I managed to recapture it through my work. And it didn’t happen overnight; it took years where each time I dealt with something a little crazy, I realized I got pleasure out of it. So how do you keep that inner child? Stop being scared of being wrong.
Text by Yong Wei Jian